By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune
STAR CITY — Get trapped in a farm grain bin, and you’ve basically stepped into quicksand — the more you try to climb out, the faster you sink in.
A Star City business is training area first responders to use a new rescue device it purchased for just such an emergency.
Adam Peppers, safety director at Bonnell Grain Handling Inc., understands the importance of action during a life-threatening grain engulfment. That’s why Bonnell asked Safety and Technical Rescue Association, a nonprofit organization based in Michigan, to host a safety and rescue training session with a GSI RES-Q tube last fall.
Bonnell Grain Handling, owned by brothers Mark and Milo Bonnell, has been in business for 40 years and deals with grain handling equipment sales, service and construction.
“Corn acts as quicksand and the faster you fight the quicker you sink,” Peppers said.
The 60-inch rescue device is constructed to fit around an engulfment victim and shield him or her from further grain flow. It is located at Bonnell Grain Handling, Star City, and is available 24/7 for anyone trained to use it.
Peppers said local fire departments and personnel would be able to use the device if and when it’s needed.
Although the device hasn’t been used in a real-life situation, it was used in the training with SATRA.
In September, seven area fire departments attended a training session on how to use the device, Peppers said. Training led by Bill Harp, CEO of SATRA, included two hours of classroom work. After the classroom training, participants were given the opportunity to put on a lifeline and experience being chest-deep in grain while others were able to practice using the RES-Q tube, Harp said.
Some local fire departments, including Lt. Rex Danely at the Cass County Fire District, went to train on the GSI RES-Q device.
Danely was one of several emergency personnel on scene last year when a Clymers farmworker was pulled from an 18th Street grain elevator using ropes and a large vacuum.
Education and prevention is the most important part in training to prevent engulfment that can end in fatality, said George Lovell, Chief Operations Officer with SATRA.
In 2008, there were 34 engulfments and 17 fatalities nationwide, Lovell said. The next year, 41 engulfments and 19 fatalities occurred. By 2012, those numbers droppped to 19 engulfments and eight fatalities.
The numbers have decreased in recent years, Lovell said, because “education is the key to the whole operation.”
“This is a farming community,” Danely said. “If you talk to most farmers, you’ll find out they did the same thing (climbed into grain bins) and probably didn’t realize they were putting their life in danger.”
The main reason Bonnell bought the device was because most fire departments in the area are volunteer-based and might not be able to afford the device, Peppers said. The 3-foot-wide, 5-foot-tall rescue device cost about $1,200, he said.
“If we can buy it and make it available to them, we hope it will help make it safer,” Peppers said.
Peppers hopes to host more training sessions. The biggest thing to note, for him, is that if it’s needed he’ll “let trained professionals use it.”
“It’s very easy to try to do the right thing and cause more damage,” Peppers said. “Grain entrapment is such a specialized type of rescue. It’s not hard to understand, but it requires training.”